• GERMANIC MIGRATIONS AND
  • FRANKISH KINGDOM
  • JOHANNES REUCHLIN
  • THE WEIMAR CONSTITUTION
  • W
  • INFLATION, REPARATIONS, AND
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  • STABILIZATION AND LOCARNO,
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  • ROAD TO DICTATORSHIP,
  • T
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  • A
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  • DENUNCIATION AND RELUCTANT
  • GERMANIC MIGRATIONS AND
  • Frederick William III

    lang=EN-US style='font-size:10.5pt;font-family:"Meridien-Medium","serif"; color:black'>(17701840)

    king of Prussia

    Frederick William III became king of Prussia in

    1797, succeeding his unpopular father. Born in

    Potsdam on August 3, 1770, he had a timid and

    irresolute personality, but was strong enough to

    get rid of his fathers ministers and mistresses and

    remove the restrictions on religion, abolishing

    censorship. The 27-year-old prince was honest,

    modest, with an aversion to luxury. His home life

    was Victorian with the middle-class values prevalent

    both in BERLIN and Potsdam. He displayed a

    respectable family life in his love match with

    Luise von Mecklenburg-Strelitz. The famous

    German historian Leopold von RANKE described

    Frederick William as a simple king, and to that

    we can add that he was one whose hesitancy to

    act was nearly pathological. But that was only

    half the story of the incompetence of this head of

    392 Frederick William III

    state. Frederick William even avoided consulting

    his appropriate ministers when making decisions,

    relying rather on so-called cabinet secretaries

    who were underlings and unstatesmanlike.

    This distressed the cabinet ministers and the

    bureaucracy, where considerable talent resided

    and whose pride had grown since the days of

    FREDERICK II. Frederick William was a very ordinary

    man who had the misfortune to be king

    during a time of revolutionary changes.

    There were reformist energies present in

    Berlin at the turn of the 19th century, and the

    king must be given credit for seeing the need for

    fundamental social changes. He initiated the

    greatest agrarian reform ever made in Prussia,

    progressively freeing the peasantry on his royal

    domains between 1799 and 1805 and creating

    some 50,000 freehold farms. He was reluctant to

    declare the end of serfdom on the estates of the

    nobles but hoped his example would be followed.

    In the financial area the nobility held

    onto their vested interests, resisting the payment

    of a land tax, while the guilds resisted giving up

    their trade monopolies. When Baron Karl vom

    und zum STEIN became minister of taxation, he

    reformed the excise administration, which had

    separated the treatment of town and country.

    The king was also aware of weaknesses in the

    army in competing with the new type of citizen

    army fielded by the French. Strikingly, at least

    half of the Prussian army consisted of mercenaries

    and the rest of peasants and journeymen.

    The discipline of the nonmercenaries, however,

    had to be lightened. Also the army was too top

    heavy with old officers still around from the

    days of Frederick II. Half the generals were older

    than 60. The army had poor leadership and confused

    command structure, and the officers

    resisted reforms, all of which made the army the

    most obvious symbol of Prussias weaknesses.

    In foreign affairs Frederick William found it

    difficult to make decisions, preferring cautious

    policies and weak ministers. During the War of

    the Second Coalition against France in 1805

    Frederick William clung to neutrality. As a result

    Austria was defeated at AUSTERLITZ in 1806.

    Then the king went to war against Napoleon at

    the least favorable moment, resulting in Prussias

    military catastrophe at the BATTLE OF JENA. He

    was ignored in the negotiations at the Peace of

    Tilsit in 1807, and Prussia suffered the loss of its

    Polish and western territories, in addition to the

    disruption of its economy and financial ruin. The

    territorial losses amounted to roughly half of

    Prussias territory. As a result of Jena in 1807,

    Frederick William made Karl von HARDENBURG

    his chief adviser, an outstanding official who in

    1798 had been appointed to the GENERAL DIRECTORY

    and was placed in charge of foreign affairs.

    He counseled the king to resist Napoleon, who

    in response demanded that the king dismiss

    Hardenburg. This opened the door for the great

    Karl Freiherr von Stein, who wanted to replace

    the cabinet of the kings cronies with orderly and

    responsible ministerial government. In November

    1808 Stein issued an edict establishing a centralized

    administration conducted by five

    ministers who had direct access to the king.

    With Steins dismissal again in response to

    Napoleon, Hardenburg returned in 1810 to

    solve the fiscal crisis of the Prussian state. The

    reformers of the army, Gerhard Johann Scharnhorst

    and his idealistic fellow officers, had the

    goal of creating a citizen army led by an officer

    corps of talented professionals. As squeamish as

    ever, the king feared that this would endanger

    the state and refused to follow the call for

    national mobilization.

    From the first defeats of Napoleon in 1813 until

    the CONGRESS OF VIENNA various statesmen proposed

    plans for the shape of a new Germany. Out

    of the complex negotiations and the unwillingness

    of most states to give up little, in the end the map

    of German Europe was redrawn. Prussia gained

    the most, receiving two-fifths of SAXONY, some

    Polish areas around DANZIG, what was lost at Tilsit,

    and territories in the Rhineland and Westphalia,

    which gave her a strong presence in western Germany.

    Although Frederick William in 1810 had

    promised a constitution with representative institutions,

    after the congress his willingness to grant

    a constitution declined. Napoleons defeat and

    the settlement at Vienna decreased the need for

    change. The kings reactionary companions

    Frederick William III 393

    associated constitutions with foreigners and revolutionaries,

    while METTERNICH warned the king

    that a representative assembly would mean the

    end of Prussia. After the assassination of Kotzebue

    in 1819, the kings commitment to reaction was

    complete when he instructed Hardenburg to fully

    enforce the CARLSBAD DECREES. One year after the

    death of Hardenburg in 1822 the constitutional

    movement came to an end.

    Two other changes during his reign included

    the merger of the Protestant churches and the

    establishment of the German Customs Union in

    1834. A new order of worship was drafted by

    the king in the Agende of 1822 and through

    which he wished to make the AUGSBURG CONFESSION

    the official creed, which amounted to a

    declaration of royal opposition to the ideas of the

    ENLIGHTENMENT and modern German philosophy.

    In 1834 the German Customs Union was

    established to facilitate trade. It also facilitated

    the unification of Germany under Prussian leadership.

    Frederick William III died on June 7,

    1840.

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